Saturday, April 13, 2013

Short Take: "The Cats of Ulthar," H. P. Lovecraft

This review was originally published on Pol Culture.

H. P. Lovecraft’s short story “The Cats of Ulthar” is a modest attempt at a folklore-style piece with horror-fantasy trappings. The village of Ulthar, where the story is set, is presumably a place from a long time ago and far, far away. It is also a place where it is forbidden to kill a cat. The narrator relates the tale of how that came to be. The village used to be a place where no cat was safe. The townspeople loved their cats, but a reclusive couple was known to kill any of the animals that ventured into their grasp. This ended shortly after a band of gypsy-like nomads came to town, and the couple apparently killed the one cat they should have left alone. Magic comes into play, and the feline community has their revenge. It’s a startlingly grisly one. The couple’s horrifying fate carries a sensationalistic jolt, but unfortunately it is the only aspect of the story that's particularly memorable. Lovecraft didn’t structure the piece with much in mind in terms of effect. There's nothing in the way of suspense, irony, or poetic epiphany. The story is all exposition, and it pretty much just lays there. One comes to the end and thinks, Is that all? There’s a good deal of imagination on display, but not much art in presenting it. The story was first published in the November 1920 issue of Tryout. The illustration above is by Nico.

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